Mindfulness in Action: The Three-Minute Breathing Space

University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School

Key Points

  1. The three-minute breathing space in MBCT offers a structured pause to promote mindful choices, especially during moments of distress or auto-pilot behavior.
  2. The technique encompasses mental, emotional, and physical check-ins, anchored by focused breathing.
  3. While meditation is a core component of MBCT, the ultimate aim is to apply these skills in everyday life to foster more skillful, grounded responses to internal and external stimuli.
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MBCT is focused on the use of various techniques that direct one’s attention in a manner that facilitates conscious choices. Among these techniques, the three-minute breathing space stands out for its effectiveness and simplicity.

Purpose of the Three-Minute Breathing Space

The three-minute breathing space is an intentional pause that provides an opportunity to make a mindful decision. It is particularly useful when individuals:

  • Recognize they’re on autopilot;
  • Experience an abundance of negative thoughts or rumination;
  • Feel rising anxiety or physical symptoms such as restlessness, a racing heart, or flushing.

This technique is taught during MBCT sessions and serves as an aid to counteract these responses. While extensive meditation practices are integral to MBCT, the three-minute breathing space alone has demonstrated remarkable potency.

Execution of the Three-Minute Breathing Space

Starting Position

  1. Encourage the participant to embrace stillness, momentarily detaching from past or upcoming events.
  2. Assume a relaxed yet attentive posture.
  3. Release tension from areas such as the eyes, jaw, and shoulders.
  4. Ground oneself by placing feet flat on the floor, feeling the support of the chair and the earth.
  5. Either close the eyes or cast them downward to limit external visual stimuli.


  1. Mental Check-In: Observe the current state of mind without trying to alter any thoughts.
  2. Emotional Check-In: Identify and acknowledge any present emotions.
  3. Physical Check-In: Conduct a quick body scan from head to feet, noting any sensations.
  4. Focus on Breathing: Direct attention to the breath, identifying where it’s most noticeable in the body.
  5. Expand Awareness: Shift attention to encompass the whole body, recognizing its existence in the present moment.


Once the exercise concludes, invite participants to gently reopen their eyes or adjust their gaze, assessing any shifts in their internal state.

Implications and Application

This technique, akin to an hourglass, serves as a grounding tool, improving internal capacity. It aids individuals in avoiding being overly influenced by their thoughts or emotions. Instead of attempting to change them, they learn to anchor in the present. The overarching goal of MBCT is not merely to sharpen meditation skills but to apply these techniques in daily life. This approach promotes reactions that are measured, compassionate, and supportive, beneficial during both joyous times and moments of anxiety or despair.

Looking for practical everyday tools? This print-friendly worksheet is just what you need. Click on the following link to download the PDF:

Centered Awareness: The Three-Minute Breathing Exercise

This worksheet is a component of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy specifically designed to facilitate the Three-Minute Breathing Space technique. It serves as an interactive guide for clients, aiding them in navigating through various stages of mindfulness. The worksheet provides a structured format for grounding, mental, emotional, physical check-ins, and focused breathing exercises. It is intended to assist clients in recognizing and responding to moments of stress, autopilot behavior, and emotional fluctuations. This reflective process encourages clients to observe their internal states without judgment, fostering an increased awareness of their present-moment experiences. This approach aims to enhance clients’ mindfulness skills, promoting a more measured and mindful response to internal and external stimuli.


This worksheet focused on the Three-Minute Breathing Space technique from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, serves as an interactive tool for clients to engage with and reflect on this mindfulness practice. Therapists should introduce the worksheet after explaining the fundamentals of the technique. Encourage clients to complete it during moments of distress or when recognizing automatic pilot behaviors. The structured sections guide clients through the process, from grounding and mental check-in to expanded awareness. Therapists should review completed worksheets in subsequent sessions to discuss clients’ experiences, insights, and any observed changes in their thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations. This process aims to deepen clients’ understanding and application of mindfulness in their daily lives, enhancing their therapeutic progress.

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Mindfulness in Action: The Three-Minute Breathing Space